An open letter to teachers

Dear Sir/Miss/Ma’am,

So you and the vicious little bastards have returned to do battle for another year. You have my sympathy. It can’t be easy. For a start, you have to put names to a whole bunch of new faces. As far as I’m concerned, six names adequately covers the spectrum – Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy and Dopey. They even look like dwarves. Don’t get me wrong. Some of my best friends are … no, wait. Those weren’t dwarves. What the hell were those?

Anyway. The point is this. You have chosen a career from hell and we should all be a lot more appreciative. WC Fields once said, “Never work with children or animals.” Personally, I have always thought the two had an alarming number of things in common. Both will try to bite you if you take their food away and neither will perform unless you whip them.

Some say that teaching, like journalism, is a calling. That’s the kind of rubbish spouted by jumper-wearing do-gooders happy to get by on a handful of lentils and a cup of river water.

Teachers, like journalists, want to be given the respect they deserve. And by respect, I mean don’t just step over us when you see us lying in the gutter. Pick us up and help us back into the bar. Buy us a drink. Tell us how much you appreciate what we are doing. Okay, so it’s mainly journalists I’m talking about here.

But you have your own crazy shit to deal with. When you tell someone you’re a teacher, the first thing they ask is, “Which subject?” closely followed by, “What grade?” If you teach finger-painting to grade ones, they will not take you seriously and try to sleep with you right away. If you say you teach English to matrics, they will take you seriously and try to sleep with you right away. This only applies to female teachers. Male teachers are best avoided.

Whereas journalists fall into two loose categories – alcoholic and recovering alcoholic – you teachers are separated by a far tighter public/private divide. We do, however, share similar feelings of hostility, envy and suspicion.

It can’t be much fun working at a government school. For a start, you are no longer allowed to punch kids in the face to calm them down. Teachers are expected to wear condoms when helping the girls with extra lessons. And the days of coming to work drunk are over. Now, you may only drink once you’re at work.

Private schools are generally the preserve of white teachers, although the classes themselves are a fruity mix of pointy-faced blonde girls, African diplomats’ daughters and a smattering of curly-lipped boys who get dropped off by their BMW X1-driving mothers and who look nothing like their fathers.

It doesn’t really matter where you work, I suppose. The important thing is that you do your job properly. If you are a maths teacher and you don’t know the square root of 94 – if there even is such a thing – then resign and make way for someone who does. Become a journalist. We can barely work out the tip on a bar bill.

Your approach to teaching could easily mean the difference between a kid going to university and getting a degree or going to my house and ironing my face.

You are a sower of seeds. And if your seeds are being watered with apathy, indolence and incompetence, you are no better than Monsanto. In the right hands, nurture can change the course of nature. I say this without a shred of scientific evidence.

Almost half of the pupils who should have written matric last year dropped out at the end of Grade 10. The solution is blindingly obvious. Don’t let them leave. Build walls. Plant landmines. Put snipers on the rooftops. Unleash the hounds. It worked in East Germany and it can work here.

They’re not stupid, these dropouts. They’re loafers. Okay, some are stupid. But even the glassy-eyed mouth-breathers can be taught enough to make a living that doesn’t involve mugging or begging. I’m willing to bet that a fair percentage of children bail from school because the teaching staff is made up of malingerers and halfwits.

So shine up this year. Teach, don’t leech.


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